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The effectiveness of the University relies on the contribution that each of the University’s programs and services makes towards achieving the goals of the institution as a whole. – MSCHE Standard VII

Guiding Principles for Assessment at QC

Our Guiding Principles for Assessment are intended to promote a shared understanding of assessment at Queens College, and provide guidelines for meaningful and effective assessment practices.

1. The primary purpose of assessment is to direct the strategic improvement of the student experience and student learning at Queens College. Thus, a culture of assessment at QC should be a culture of inquiry, evidence, and innovation – a student-centered approach to systematic self-examination aimed at improvement.

2. Assessment is more likely to lead to improvement when the faculty and staff who deliver our programs and services own the process of assessment. Faculty determine the learning goals and means of assessment for courses, majors and other learning programs. Staff are responsible for the goals and means of assessment for support offices.

3. The process of assessment is more meaningful when guided by the curiosity and intellectual dialogue that characterize the culture of higher education. Meaningful assessment begins with genuine questions.

4. The findings of assessment are more reliable when they draw on multiple measures (direct and indirect, quantitative and qualitative) and follow principles of research. Reliable assessments utilize quality data and expert analysis.

5. Assessment activities are more effective when they are designed to be manageable and sustainable.

6. To ensure assessment activities are meaningful and sustainable, our assessment activities should be subject to periodic assessment themselves.

Key Differences to Consider

Assessment vs. Research

Assessment and research are similar in many ways: Both involve asking questions, collecting data, analyzing results, and using the results as reliable evidence. Like research, assessment activities may use quantitative or qualitative research methods, and often benefits from a mixed methods approach.

However, there are important differences. The goal of research is to confirm or challenge hypotheses to guide theory, whereas the goal of assessment is to produce reasonably accurate information about how well we are meeting our goals and guide local practice. Many factors limit the scope and impact of assessment, including limitations on time, resources, design and implementation. As such, assessment findings typically have implications for a single course, program or institution, whereas research findings are intended to have broader implications. 

Assuming assessment findings will not be published or presented at a conference, assessment activities that are conducted for internal decision-making (and not as part of a “systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge”) do not require IRB review. IRB approval is required for generalizable research involving human subjects. To learn more, see CUNY’s exemption policy, or CUNY’s policies on Human Research.

Decisions about curriculum, teaching techniques, assignments, and syllabi are made regularly and such decisions are best informed by evidence – the findings of assessment activities. Good assessment practices, in the context of a particular course, program or institution, can and should guide local practice and decisions for the continual improvement of the student experience.

For more information, see Upcraft and Schuh, “Assessment vs Research: Why We Should Care about the Difference,” About Campus, March-April 2002.

Assessment vs. Accreditation

Accreditation is a process by which an educational institution is certified by an independent body to award certificates and degrees. The process was established nearly a century ago to foster a common set of educational standards among secondary schools and universities. Today, the accreditation process is an integral part of a higher education institution’s strategy for institutional effectiveness.

But while accreditation self studies aim to demonstrate that fiscal and human resources are being invested responsibly, faculty and staff conduct assessment activities to improve their programs. Assessment findings are an important part of the accreditation review process since they are a key source of the evidence that we provide to our accreditation bodies, but the primary focus of assessment is the student experience – assessment activities are student-centered and are meant to inform local decisions pertaining to courses, majors, programs, and support offices, whereas accreditation activities are meant to inform external reviewers.

Queens College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). To learn more about MSCHE expectations with regards to assessment, see their document on “Assessing Student Learning and Institutional Effectiveness: Middle States Expectations”. To learn more about the accreditation review process at QC, see our Provost’s website on MSCHE Accreditation.

Assessment vs. Grading

Generally, the goal of grading is to evaluate individual students’ learning, whereas the goal of assessment is to improve learning overall. Grading is the analysis and use of data by faculty to make judgments about an individual student’s performance. Assessment, on the other hand, is a way to measure student learning overall and improve student learning within a course or program.

Grading plays an important role in assessment, of course, as grades can provide useful evidence of student learning when they are based on direct measures (tests, projects, papers, etc.) that are clearly linked to course learning goals and consistent with standards. However, assessment typically goes beyond grading by systematically examining patterns of student learning and using this information to improve educational practices.

Important Documents

In addition to the guiding principles and key differences above, assessment at QC is informed by the following:

A cycle circle diagram. It starts at the 12pm position and has an arrow clockwise with text at intervals that read: Inquiry, Evidence, Reflection, Insight, Planning, Action, Improvement.